Durand administrators discuss instruction, safety guidelines for 2020-21 school year

Durand Area Schools administrators held a virtual town hall meeting for students and parents Tuesday.

DURAND — Durand Area Schools administrators say they are ready for whatever comes their way this fall, whether it be conducting face-to-face instruction or implementing a remote learning format for students that is entirely online.

Administrators discussed the variety of back-to-school options, as well as numerous coronavirus-related safety precautions the district will be undertaking once students return to school, during a virtual town hall meeting Tuesday, conducted via the video conferencing app Zoom.

The hourlong discussion, led by Superintendent Craig McCrumb, drew more than 200 attendees as administrators from all district buildings took time to answer questions from students and parents regarding what instruction may look like this fall.

“I was surprised that we had that many people tune in, but you know, that’s a credit to our community,” McCrumb said following the meeting. “They care about their kids’ education and of course we do too, and we felt that we were able to provide some answers, not all, but enough to let people know that we’re on top of the situation.

“We’ve got good plans in place,” McCrumb continued, “we’re just waiting for a little more information coming from Lansing and then we’re going to be ready to pull the trigger.”

Earlier this month, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she felt “optimistic” face-to-face learning could resume this fall. Whitmer is expected to announce her “Return to School Roadmap” detailing requirements and guidance for schools to reopen on June 30.

Durand Middle School Principal Rebecca Shankster said the district is preparing for traditional face-to-face instruction, an entirely virtual format and a hybrid of the two dependent on what guidance comes down from the state. The hybrid format would feature a blend of in-classroom and online learning, she said.

To accommodate online learning, Durand Area Schools has used a portion of its $200,000 in CARES Act funding from the federal government to purchase electronic devices, according to McCrumb. Beginning this fall, the district will be able to provide one electronic device for every single student, he said, noting pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students will receive iPads while students in grades 1-12 in need of a device will receive Chromebooks.

“We definitely have this awesome opportunity with one-to-one devices,” Shankster said. “At all times we can tap in using those Chromebooks and iPads with the students to give them so many more opportunities (for learning)…It’s a wonderful thing whether we have to go online (for instruction) or not.”

In the event that students are allowed to return the school, several virus-related precautions will be in place, according to Bertha Neal Elementary Principal Robert Cawson, including increased sanitizing of classroom surfaces.

“We’re going to be educating students about hand washing, tips like washing between the fingers, washing for a sufficient (amount of) time, just really to keep the hands germ-free, keep the body germ-free,” Cawson said. “We’re also going to be making sure that we’re monitoring, encouraging and requiring frequent hand washing breaks (across all buildings)…It’s going to be really crucial that we as a staff help our students continue to wash their hands and just be clean between transitions.”

McCrumb anticipates students will also be required to wear masks as part of any face-to-face instruction, though no definitive direction from the state has been given.

In addition to purchasing additional devices for students, Durand Area Schools has also purchased several electrostatic hand-held sprayers — two per building — which will be used to disinfect classrooms.

The sprayers work by charging liquids (i.e. disinfectants) as they pass through a nozzle, generating charged droplets that kill bacteria, McCrumb said.

“The great thing about these items is you are killing everything that’s around without actually having to go in and put a damp cloth on a table or elsewhere,” McCrumb said. “We’re pretty excited about our prospects for keeping kids safe and healthy when they do return to school…At every turn, we are going to continue to look for ways to keep kids safe.”

Staff are also working to provide academic assistance this fall, given that students have been outside the traditional classroom environment for roughly two months longer than the traditional summer break, as face-to-face instruction was suspended March 13.

Extra time will be allotted district-wide for students in both English and math this fall, according to Robert Kerr Elementary Principal Amy Holek, in an effort to help students revisit and master academic content from the 2019-20 school year while also blending it with new content in 2020-21.

The focused instruction, known as “Tier 2 interventions,” has been in place at Robert Kerr for several years, according to Holek. Each day, students will receive 20 to 30 minutes of focused instruction for English and math based on their individual needs, she said.

“For the first few weeks, our interventions are going to be focused on what we were missing since March to close that gap from going to one grade to the other,” Holek said, “and then as we progress we’ll tie it into the new material being learned.”

Time for English and math enrichment will also be built into students’ schedules at Durand Middle School, according to Shankster.

“We’re tailoring those classes to meet the needs of the students, so wherever their needs are when they come back to us, we’re going to be able to meet their needs and work with them to get them where they need to be,” Shankster said. “We know that this has been tough, we know that they’ve been away for a while, but with the support of the teachers and with everybody behind them and the supports we’re putting in place, we know that they’re going to be able to go further than ever before.

As the district awaits further guidance from the state regarding instruction, Shankster said she wants students and parents to know that Durand Area Schools is prepared for whatever lies ahead.

“No matter what comes up in the future, we’re going to be taking care of our kids,” Shankster said. “We’re going to make sure that the kids in Durand have the education they need...We care deeply about the kids and we’re going to do everything we can (for them).”

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